Pharmacology of GABA

Clin Neuropharmacol. 1982;5(3):293-316. doi: 10.1097/00002826-198205030-00004.


GABA-ergic systems are involved in all the main functions of the brain. In most brain regions impairment of this system produces epileptic activity. GABA-mediated inhibitory function can be enhanced by drugs of at least seven different types. They act on the metabolism or synaptic release of GABA, or its reuptake into neurones of glia, or on various components of the GABA receptor complex (GABA recognition site, "benzodiazepine" receptor or chloride ionophore). Among such compounds, those which act most specifically and potently on GABA receptors remain primarily research tools. Among compounds in clinical use, valproate, benzodiazepines, and anticonvulsant barbiturates al enhance GABA-mediated inhibition. In the future, new inhibitors of GABA uptake, new GABA agonists and potent inhibitors of GABA-transaminase are likely to become available. Trials of drugs enhancing GABA-ergic function have been made in a wide variety of neurological disorders. In most forms of epilepsy a therapeutic effect is evident. Real benefit from GABA therapies has not been demonstrated in the principal disorders of movement (Huntington's chorea, Parkinson's disease, dystonias), except in so far as they have a myoclonic or paroxysmal component. Among psychiatric disorders the acute symptoms of schizophrenia are exacerbated by enhanced GABA-ergic function. Abstinence syndromes (alcohol, barbiturate or narcotic withdrawal) are ameliorated by drugs enhancing GABA-ergic function, and there is some evidence for a beneficial action in anxiety states and mania. Attempts to relate the molecular neurobiology of GABA with clinical pharmacology are of very recent origin. Improved understanding of the variety of GABA receptor mechanisms will provide the key to the more selective pharmacological manipulations that are required for therapeutic success.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • 4-Aminobutyrate Transaminase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Anxiety Disorders / drug therapy
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology
  • Barbiturates / pharmacology
  • Barbiturates / therapeutic use
  • Benzodiazepines / pharmacology
  • Benzodiazepines / therapeutic use
  • Bipolar Disorder / drug therapy
  • Dyskinesia, Drug-Induced / drug therapy
  • Epilepsy / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Huntington Disease / drug therapy
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy
  • Movement Disorders / drug therapy
  • Neural Inhibition / drug effects
  • Parkinson Disease / drug therapy
  • Pituitary Gland, Anterior / physiology
  • Schizophrenia / drug therapy
  • Status Epilepticus / drug therapy
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / drug therapy
  • Syndrome
  • Valproic Acid / therapeutic use
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / biosynthesis
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / pharmacology*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / physiology
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / toxicity


  • Barbiturates
  • Benzodiazepines
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Valproic Acid
  • 4-Aminobutyrate Transaminase